Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sloppy drafting?

One of the legacies of this Government, stretching back to 1997, has been the appalling standard of legislative drafting.  This is one of those subjects that can best be filed under ‘tedious but important’ as knee-jerk reactions to political problems result in contradictory and astonishingly authoritarian consequences.  This is not merely about the fact that one can be prosecuted under about five different Acts for carrying a knife – that is the result of this Government using legislation primarily as a message, which is bad enough in itself.

The problem here is that legislation is so often so widely and vaguely drafted that quite perverse outcomes emerge.  Look at George Monbiot here.  He refers to the fact that the Protection Against Harassment Act 1997, ostensibly designed to protect women from stalkers (which was the contemporary tabloid stalwart), is being used as a means of criminalising peaceful civil disobedience.  Part of the problem is that legislation is so opaquely drafted that it is far from obvious what its implications are.  Tolley’s Tax Code, to take one example, has damn nearly doubled in size under Labour.  New tax legislation is poorly drafted and often ambiguous.  Accountants and lawyers genuinely have no idea what the true interpretation of some clauses might be until it is determined in court.

Any new administration should have, as a priority, the radical simplification of the British legislative code.

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